Friday, November 24, 2023

My lost Lenape heritage

I want to tell this story in the most honest and genuine way possible, so please don't @ me. My intention is not to take focus away from indigenous voices, but to try and amplify them. Please check out the links at the end of this article, and support native American culture. 

As I was growing up in Western Pennsylvania, my family used to tell me that my great-grandmother, Anna Laura, was "Indian," and that we are descended from the Delaware people. Everyone said that Anna looked "Indian" and my grandfather looked it, too. I thought that was cool, but that's all the detail I ever heard about it. As a child, I didn't know what it meant. Of course, I acknowledge my privilege. I don't look "Indian." I did not grow up on a reservation. I did not learn the culture, etc. 

Then, I did the DNA thing. Sure enough, the marker showed up - 1% Indigenous North America, which means that I have a 4th or 5th great-grandparent who was native, but that's hardly a reason to boast, is it? I mean, I can't definitively say what my tribe or lineage is. Still, I am curious. I want to know more. 

Many years ago, my mother and I visited my Great-Aunt Sarah - daughter of said great-grandmother, and keeper of the family lore. She said that our native American ancestor was Jane Bond - my 4th great grandmother, and I thought she said "Lakota," but she either misspoke or I misheard, because that seems very unlikely. Lenape was the word I was looking for, because that is much more likely the case. The Lenape were also called the Delawares - Bingo. I'm on the right trail now.

This photo is Jane Bond (1798-1864). My Aunt Sarah had a copy of this photo in a family album. 

So, who was Jane Bond? Was she Lenape? I can trace my family tree on directly up to Jane Bond, and she is my 4th great-grandmother, but I haven't found any official records that indicate her indigenous status. All I have is my family's oral tradition, and 1% DNA to show for it. I know that's not a lot to go on. Let the googling begin!

Fun with

"Facts" that I gathered from my research on (I don't trust everything on there 100 percent, because some info is contributed by people without any backing records):

From the New York Evening Post, August 9, 1820

I found one record for Jane's father, an obituary for Joshua B. Bond, died 1820 in Sloane Springs, NJ, age 50. When I google Sloane Springs NJ, I find no such place exists now, but there are several places and businesses in NJ with "Sloane" in the name. I can't be sure that this particular Joshua Bond is the father of Jane, but if he is, he went back to NJ at some point and died there. Perhaps he was buried in his native homeland?

I found another clue that was shared in an Ancestry Member story, from another descendent of Jane Bond, and it says that:

"Jane was born ca.1798/99 in New York, the daughter of Joshua and Jane (maiden surname unknown) Bond. "Joshua Bond brought his family [to what became Preston County] in 1814 . . . [his wife] Jane was a wonderful mother, and teacher as well (since there were no schools), and instilled in them [her children] the traits of honest hard work and becoming good citizens."(1)

Some colonists were known to take Lenape brides. I think that might have been the case with Joshua Bond and his wife, Jane, because of how she is described in the Libscomb family history cited above. 

The Lenape homeland

The Lenape originally occupied the Eastern parts of what is now PA, NY, NJ, and Delaware. They lived in this region for thousands of years until they were pushed out by colonization(2). Fun fact: They were the first indigenous tribe to meet the Europeans in the early 17th century. 

Original Lenape homeland

After that, it gets complicated. According to Curtis Zunigha, an enrolled member and cultural director of the Delaware Tribe of Indians, the displacement of the Lenape “is a history of deprivations, of swindles, of murders, of dishonorable behavior by the Dutch, by the British, and later by the Americans."(3)

So, I looked at this map for a while, and you see that orange dotted line that curves right-to-left underneath the PA/Maryland border? It runs right past Preston County, WV. 

A map at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia showing the forced migration of members of the Lenape Nation.

If Joshua was born around 1770 in New York, and then moved to Preston County WV in 1814, that loosely fits with the Lenape pattern of migration. Put a pin in that. The path continues on into Ohio, where the story gets even more interesting (and tragic). 

Cue, the arrival of the Moravians

“The Moravians treated the Native Americans as equals,” Johnson said. “They did not attempt to exploit them and for those who wanted to become Christians, the Moravians were there to help.”

Many Delawares converted to Christianity thanks to the teachings of the Moravians. 

According to Johnson, the Moravians taught the Delaware skills to succeed as Christians, but this forced the Delaware to abandon many of their traditions. In return, the Delaware showed the Moravians how to live off the land. A major part of the Delwares’ responsibilities was farming, taking care of livestock, hunting, and getting food."(4)

However, it doesn't end well for the Lenape. Long story short, the Moravians failed to protect the Lenape from greedy settlers. In 1782, a group of militiamen murdered 96 pacifist Moravian Christian Indians (primarily Lenape and Mohican) at the Moravian mission village where they lived in Ohio, in what was called the Gnadenhutton massacre

This happened before Jane was born, and luckily, my ancestors didn't make it that far, instead stopping to settle in WV, but I just had to include the story here. 

In 1824, Jane married Fielding Lipscomb, and they lived in the German settlement in Preston County, which is now known as Aurora. From then on, the family tree is well documented. There are many records, and the Libscomb family cemetery is an historical landmark. Still, no literal mention anywhere of Jane's tribal origins. What I've gathered is that if there is any Lenape or native American heritage to speak of, it would have been passed down by word of mouth and, in my case, it was passed down through my maternal line. There are several reasons why I was not going to find any official records or documentation.

Lenape invisibility

American Indians on the East Coast have seemingly disappeared into history, erased from memory. Indigenous status was not recorded in census data. There are no Lenape reservations on their original homeland, but many Lenape stayed in the area, hiding their identity. Lenape who avoided removal from their land had to integrate with the locals, and remain undetected. 

This article talks about Lenape invisibility in Pennsylvania:

"For decades, people with native background took pains to conceal their identities. As one woman of Lenape descent told us, ‘To be truthful, you only know what you hear from your parents or your relatives or the other people about your family. In those days, it was not cool to be Indian. Matter of fact, it was dangerous to be Indian. You lost your job if you were Indian. You couldn’t go to school, many times, if you were Indian. You certainly couldn’t practice your religion because it was disallowed. So the only way you got a feeling of who you were was by listening to the old ones talk, your family talk’. People told us about grandparents or great grandparents being taken away from their families to the Carlisle Indian School when they were identified as Indians. Twentieth century entertainments stereotyped Indians as blood-thirsty savages. A woman in her 60s told us, ‘I didn’t tell nobody I was an Indian even when I was that young. I never went out and said “Yeah, I’m an Indian” at school’. I never said that. I knew who I was and I left it at that. And when I would see these things on TV, I’d say, ‘Oh my God, I’m glad I didn’t say that because they’re really mean people, these Indians. Nasty and hurtful’."(5)

I found another passage from this article, which also resonated:

"The natives’ reasons to leave were real. In the 1780s, Pennsylvania was still paying a bounty for “pursuing, taking, killing, and destroying Delawares and Shawnees”—and that included babies, according to the Pennsylvania Gazette. In fact, white settlers had to produce scalps or skins to collect their pay.

A century later many Lenape children were forcibly taken from their families and sent to Indian boarding schools designed to assimilate them into the mainstream culture.

But many remained here in hiding, fearful of discovery. Even now, the tribal memory of that is still capable of producing anxiety in some Lenapes and they tend to maintain their silence. Mistrust of the government still persists. It’s almost palpable among descendants. Some were the children of German settlers who had come to this country without families and married Lenape women or at least fathered their children and taken responsibility for them.

Several years ago I talked to a Lehigh Valley woman who told me both her grandmothers were Lenape descendants who had married into Pennsylvania Dutch families. “Even into the 1950s they were fearful they would be discovered,” she told me.

“The Lenape were a matriarchal society. They turned to the women of the tribe to carry on their legends and traditions, passed from generation to generation by clan mothers. The Lenape women were the educators. They made sure the children understood the culture and followed the traditions. They were a gentle and peaceful people,” she said."(6)

This all makes sense to me now. My family is also Pennsylvania Dutch. So many of the dates and places and other details like this really add up. Jane Bond lived at a time and place that lines up with historical and circumstantial evidence. I think she was Lenape.


Even though I might never find definitive proof of my tribal origins, at least I have a better idea of where they might have come from. Perhaps Jane's mother was Lenape, and maybe she married a Moravian convert? They followed an established migration path to their homestead along the Cheat River. The secret was kept in the family for generations to avoid discrimination, and dodge the infamous boarding schools, and it was quietly passed down to my Great-Grandmother Anna Laura, and then to my Great-Aunt Sarah, and then to me. 

Another fun fact:

"The Delaware (Lenape) Indian name for Cheat was reportedly Ach-sin-ha-nac, meaning "stony river". "Cheat River" is variously reported to have been named for (1) a French explorer (or an Indian) named Cheat or Chaet, (2) an abundance of cheat grass along its banks (possibly a misidentification of frost-killed wheat), or (3) deceptively deep sections containing whirlpools that presumably "cheated" men of their lives by drowning them.[6] None of these theories have strong documentary support, but the latter is the most often cited." -Wikipedia

The Lipscomb family would later become famous during the Civil War because one brother fought for the Union Army, while another brother fought for the South, but that's another story.

1. From Chapter 7 - Descendants of Ambrose Lipscomb (1762-1841) A Candid Family History:  Fielding Lipscomb: A Tale of Two Marriages, of the unpublished book written by Jeffrey Lipscomb who is a descendant of Ambrose’s son, Levi Lipscomb (1798-1878).

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